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News Tue Apr 07 2009

Hot Doug Drop: Delivering Encased Meats to the Loop

hotdougdrop.jpgKnowing just how hard it is for some people working in the Loop to make it up to encased meats emporium Hot Doug's, Nico Westlund, a nationally ranked bike messenger, and his friend Gary Michaels have launched Hot Doug Drop, a service that lets you email or fax in your order and have it delivered to one of two "drop" locations in lobbies of the Mercantile Exchange, 20 S. Wacker Dr., and Chicago Board of Trade, 140 W. Van Buren St., at 11:30am and 1:30pm. The service was launched a couple weeks ago for the benefit of friends who worked at the trading centers. "I used to deliver Bari Foods, and saw how much the people at the BOT appreciated having Bari in the middle of the day," Westlund said. "The idea of having Hot Doug's at a boardroom meeting is so appealing." The service was expanded beyond friends at the end of last week, and its Facebook page already has 170 fans.

Hot Doug Drop is unaffiliated with the restaurant, and charges $1 per dog for delivery. Hot Doug's owner Doug Sohn is not pleased.

"The problem is, he's charging a fee," Sohn said. Unlike the person who created the @hotdougs Twitter account -- "That doesn't bother me, as long as they're not saying anything negative and they're not doing it outside my bedroom window," Sohn quipped -- Hot Doug Drop is profiting off the project, which in Sohn's eyes makes it morally questionable. After all, a big part of the Hot Doug's experience is the anticipation -- going and standing in line. If Hot Doug Drop turns out to be a big success, those orders are going to slow down production for the in-store customers, who've spent up to an hour waiting outside the store. Hot Doug's doesn't allow phone-in orders on Saturdays, and requires a $10 minimum on take-out orders on Fridays in order to accommodate the crowds, so the burden of fulfilling orders for delivery might be too much to bear. The fact that someone else is essentially setting up a for-profit delivery service, albeit a small and targeted one, on the back of his business without his consent also clearly bothered Sohn.

"I know the guy who started it, and I'm going to talk to him about shutting it down the next time I see him," Sohn said. When I spoke to Westlund today, he knew the conversation was coming. "It went from us having 30 dogs to it ramping up to where we might be too much of a burden on Doug," he said. "We've been refining the process, and it may refined into powder," and acknowledged that it probably would have been a good idea to run the idea past Sohn before building the business beyond a few friends. Westlund hoped to meet with Sohn today to discuss how the Drop might team up with the restaurant to keep it going.

We'll keep you posted on whether the Hot Doug Drop survives. In the meantime, you may want to get your order for tomorrow ready now.

UPDATE: Hot Doug Drop has posted notice on its website that it's halting delivery temporarily. According to the statement on the site, "We're taking time off for Passover and working out some kinks with the Sultan of Sausage... Please be patient, as we may have angered the Big Dog." We'll keep an eye on developments in the coming days.

UPDATE 2: Hot Doug Drop Down but not Necessarily Out -- follow-up with Westlund & Sohn

 

twobitme / April 7, 2009 2:46 PM

That's a shame. I hope they can work something out, because the few of us who discovered this yesterday were already making plans to put in an order.

I understand Doug's POV though. They should have worked with him, and not around him.

dave / April 7, 2009 2:49 PM

Sounds like jealousy, in not being able to squeeze every dollar out customers. Free enterprise. If HD doesn't like it, then do his own deliveries.

Andrew / April 7, 2009 2:55 PM

Dave, I don't think it's an issue of jealousy at all. When I spoke to Doug, he wasn't entirely sure what he thought of it, but by the end of the conversation was leaning toward putting a stop to it.

Beyond not making any additional money on deliveries with the current set-up, Hot Doug's has enough trouble meeting timely demand at the restaurant -- hence the long lines. If they have to contend with hundreds of delivery orders too, their production capacity is going to max out quickly.

R / April 7, 2009 3:01 PM

I can't count the number of times I've gone to HDs for lunch and bailed on my plan when I saw the huge line out the door. One dollar is chump change to pay someone to buy HDs for me and deliver it to my office. I'm surprised they're not charging more.

And I can understand why HD himself isn't happy about these guys not letting him in on their business--I'm sure having three (delivery) customers place huge orders has already majorly thrown off the amounts of food he preps on the weekdays.

Imagine if this delivery service included the weekends--HD would need a police escort! Hipsters up in arms!

art / April 7, 2009 4:22 PM

The delivery business looks as if it is representing Hot Dougs and it is not. If the messenger ruins the integrity of the food it would seem as if it were Hot Doug's fault. If the messenger gets into a fight in an intersection with a driver...not saying anything like this would happen but the messenger knows that he's working off of the business and not with the business. Every other third-party food delivery business signs a contract with the restaurant and establishes a menu and protocol--in other words they work together. Hopefully they work something out because this could be an example of two independents working in a sustainable way to get a good product to more people. Hot Doug has many options for a delivery service--hopefully the bicycle service has not soured their relationship because it seems like a good fit. I'll bet something will pan out and the bike messenger may have to hire some help this summer.

Rich / April 7, 2009 4:41 PM

If Hot Dougs would deliver, then there is a good chance the lines would not be so long.

If lining up is the "only way" to get Hot Dougs then that is what people will do.

Offering delivery will surely cut down on the long lines.

Then again, if Doug pays his bills the way it is already set up...well then, he has all of you hook, line, and sinker.

ChicagoGuy / April 7, 2009 4:47 PM

"Sounds like jealousy, in not being able to squeeze every dollar out customers. Free enterprise. If HD doesn't like it, then do his own deliveries."

Exactly, free enterprise. If Doug wanted to, he could put these guys' pictures next to the cash register & write "banned - do not sell to them" next to them. But instead, he has opted to simply ask them to stop.

And seriously, where did you get "jealousy" from? Have you seen the lines snaking out of Hot Doug's, around the corner, and down the street? His business is thriving as-is...he has nothing to be jealous about.

Finally, getting food delivered is not a constitutionally-protected right. As I mentioned earlier, if Doug doesn't like this, he has every right to bar these guys from entering his private property. Instead, he has chosen to be civil. Bottom line, though, is that he has no obligation to start doing deliveries of his own or make any other concessions to people who are unable/unwilling to come to his establishment.

Personally, I applaud Doug for explaining the reason he doesn't like this delivery service (profits off of his product, potentially slows down service for on-site customers), and choosing to talk it out with these guys.

On the flip side, I also applaud these Hot Doug Drop guys for being (seemingly) understanding about where Doug's coming from.

It's good to see people settling things like adults, instead of running straight to their attorneys.

Raid / April 7, 2009 4:59 PM

Forget Doug. He should be happy to have the business. Screw the fools who are stupid enough to wait an hour for a meal. No food is worth that kind of wait, and only sheeply morons would wait that long for anything.

I'm sorry for being harsh, but a sale is a sale, and Mr. Doug needs to realize this. He's still making his, and that's all that should matter.

Waiting an hour in line is not an experience one should enjoy. Those willing to wait, are the reason there are long lines to begin with. I've never understood the mentality of those sort of people. That hour you waiting doing absolutely nothing, is an hour of your life you'll never get back.

Many people don't want to wait in line, so if this guy will do it at a $1 a dog, I say let him do it.

Rabble / April 7, 2009 5:18 PM

Rabble RABBLE!!!

Kronon / April 7, 2009 7:02 PM

Nobody goes to Hot Doug's anymore it's waay too crowded!

If these guys were smart they would just open their own hot dog cart/catering truck in the loop and have a Doug's influenced menu.

There is certainly a paucity of decent and cheap lunch joints in the loop. If these guys had like 4 products--a normal dog, veggie dog, and a couple of weird Doug-style concoctions, they could make a fortune.

Lets be honest, Doug's food is good, but emulating it isn't rocket science. From a culinary standpoint, you could easily copy his "recipes." Where Doug excels, in my opinion, is by having quality ingredients and good preparation. There are hundreds of folks in the city who could do that with hot dogs. We aint talking Charile Trotter-style cusine here.

Absalon / April 7, 2009 7:26 PM

@KRONON - ARE YOU A MORON? You do realize that you contradicted your own statement before even finishing the sentence.

amyc / April 7, 2009 7:46 PM

Absalon, Kronon's first sentence is from the inimitable Yogi Berra.

"That hour you waiting doing absolutely nothing, is an hour of your life you'll never get back."

Well, you're not doing absolutely nothing -- you're waiting in line with a bunch of people. Every time I go to Hot Doug's, I end up having really interesting conversations with my fellow wait-ees while we inch our way up to the counter. I guess it's all a matter of perspective.

Cinnamon / April 7, 2009 8:26 PM

If Anthony Bourdain can wait in line to get his foie gras dog, then I don't see why we shouldn't either. Waiting in line at HD is part of the enjoyment of the place. I've certainly skipped the line myself on occasion, but when I have time I'll still wait and do it happily. That said, if someone wants to bring a game of the week and an order of duck fat fries to Evanston for me on Friday, I'd happily pay them a buck. Perhaps, Doug could limit his Hot Dog Drop guys to selling a smaller selection of dogs so they can keep doing what they do without slowing down the business for the saps like me who would happily wait in line.

E L / April 7, 2009 9:56 PM

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I'm fairly sure that what this guy's doing is illegal. Since he's not working for Hot Doug's, he's essentially buying the food and then re-selling it. But without carrying a business license, foodservice license, sanitation certificate, the necessary insurance policies, etc, etc..

What if he re-sold food from the day before and made someone sick? Then they could turn around and sue HD's, or report them to the health department, even though it wasn't their fault.

encased / April 7, 2009 11:07 PM

very weak.

very weak.

very weak.

very weak.

very weak.

very weak.

Andrew Huff / April 7, 2009 11:58 PM

Please note:

UPDATE: Hot Doug Drop has posted notice on its website that it's halting delivery temporarily. According to the statement on the site, "We're taking time off for Passover and working out some kinks with the Sultan of Sausage... Please be patient, as we may have angered the Big Dog." We'll keep an eye on developments in the coming days.

TM / April 8, 2009 10:41 AM

If Doug really wants to pursue it, he should look into getting the delivery company to stop using his name. Even if he didn't register it, he would still have a de facto trademark in the name "Hot Doug's". Surely somebody calling itself "Hot Doug Drop" is causing confusion in the marketplace.

TM / April 8, 2009 10:42 AM

If Doug really wants to pursue it, he should look into getting the delivery company to stop using his name. Even if he didn't register it, he would still have a de facto trademark in the name "Hot Doug's". Surely somebody calling itself "Hot Doug Drop" is causing confusion in the marketplace.

gerrymander / April 8, 2009 11:29 AM

If Hot Dougs would deliver, then there is a good chance the lines would not be so long.

Or it might be even longer.

The wait at Hot Doug's depends upon both the number of customers wanting a sausage, and the speed at which that desire can be filled. Currently, the order-filling capacity of the kitchen is roughly the size of the dining room -- when more people want to eat than can be seated at any one time, a line forms. Based on conversations I've had with Doug (yeah, I'm a regular), this was an intentional calculation. Since lines keep forming even after a number of people defect (opting to eat somewhere else) or substitute (lacking the option to commute from the office or whatever), that tells you something about the customer base.

In order for Doug to adequately serve a remote customer base, he'd need to expand the kitchen size and staff to remove the bottleneck -- something which the building floorplan doesn't really allow without cutting into seating.

Rich / April 8, 2009 2:18 PM

Gerry...good point. With Doug's hours what they are, does being a "regular" mean that you don't have a job?

ZING!!!

Just kidding. :-)

Andy Swindler / April 8, 2009 4:28 PM

I've thought for a long time that Doug could make more money doing this or that. The place has weird hours, it's not huge, only one location, no delivery. So many opportunities!

Then again, I didn't start it. I don't run it. I don't know what Doug knows or want what he wants. You can never question the success of a business that is thriving, no matter what "opportunities" you see as holes in their business model.

Doug delivers a great product and inspires demand by doing things his way. It works, and introducing any new aspect (including delivery) has the potential to uproot that success or degrade the quality of the product.

If you like what he's created, offer him the respect of your business rather than uninformed opinions of how he could make YOUR life better. Or go somewhere else!

Rich / April 8, 2009 5:16 PM

Gimme a break Andy...you make zero sense.

You can never question the success of a business that is thriving...that is the dumbest thing I have ever read in my life. I certainly questioned AIG back in 2006 and that is when they were thriving.

God forbid customers give their input to a business owner.

A business owner should listen to what his customers say...should he react to every single point? Probably not. But he should listen none the less.

Once again, to have delivery or not is up to Doug.

But to come on here and claim a business owner should NEVER listen to his customers opinion simply because he is thriving...well then you're a jackass.

has the potential to uproot that success or degrade the quality of the product.
...that is 100% opinion. There are businesses who did not react to their customers opinions, and now they no longer exist.

I've even read where a business thrives BECAUSE they listen to their customers. Holy Shit!

Or go somewhere else!

How about this...if you don't like what you are reading then go somewhere fucking else...eh?

Andrew Huff / April 8, 2009 5:27 PM

Further update in a new article.

Dre / April 9, 2009 9:18 AM

Maybe Doug should just sell out and start franchising his name to YUM brands (the company that owns KFC/Pizza Hut/Taco Bell)! He could make a fortune! Then there would be a Hot Doug's on every corner just like McDonalds and Starbucks and we'd all be happy. Of course he'd have to downgrade to D-grade ingredients and throw quality out the window in order to lower his margins and keep up with national-level demand, but that's the great American way! $$$$$$$$$$$$

James / April 9, 2009 3:35 PM

With this attitude Hot Doug's is likely to go the way of Mr. Beef at some point. Give me a break, too much business??? Sounds like Hot Doug thinks a bit too much of his commodity (hot dogs). I was going to try the place out, but now I think I will stick with other options if he thinks that having to wait a long time for a hot dog is "part of the experience". Does that mean that I should get in line at the bank instead of going to the ATM? Give me a break...

Andy Swindler / April 9, 2009 6:42 PM

Rich, I appreciate the response but think you would have benefited from listening to what I was saying in the first place before responding. I never once suggested that Doug shouldn't listen to customers, and Andrew's article indicates that he's open to considering the idea.

I happen to own a business of six years myself, so I know something about it.

Trust me, the worst thing for a business owner is a customer who has a BAD experience and doesn't tell him about it so he can fix it. That's business 101, and unfortunately many businesses are not receptive to this feedback and fail with good reason.

This case is different. People are suggesting things that will change a business model they really know nothing about. (e.g., "Offering delivery will surely cut down on the long lines.") Did you read the article? "If Hot Doug Drop turns out to be a big success, those orders are going to slow down production for the in-store customers, who've spent up to an hour waiting outside the store."

Worse still, this issue isn't about people providing opinions to Doug, it's about them starting businesses without his knowledge and profiting in a way that is pretty deceptive and ultimately destructive. I imagine that had he been approached directly, as you suggest, he might have been open to the idea. Sure, this approach has led to much innovation over the years, but that doesn't mean it's always a good thing.

My point is that Doug gets to call the shots, and so far he's done a pretty damn good job of making people happy, working how he wants to work, and being a respected member of the community. Being publicly critical of THAT is simply unproductive. Aren't there real problems with the world to solve?

You can provide suggestions until you're blue in the face, but he doesn't have to listen. And you can't get upset at someone for not jumping on your grand idea who has put in the sweat to build a successful business.

Oh, and the word "potential" usually refers to opinion.

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